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A passion for cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging

Meet Holly Brown, OT 's latest CET author, who discusses life as a PhD student – and managing a work/life balance with trips to the pub

09 Nov 2019 by Dr Ian Beasley BSc (Hons), DOptom, MCOptom

Holly Brown (pictured) is a final year PhD student in cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging at the University of York. Her research is assessing the impact of sight loss on the brain. She is involved in various projects assessing both how the structure and function of the brain changes as a result of progressive retinal disease or damage to the visual brain.

What is your next career goal?

After my PhD, I am hoping to secure a post-doctoral position in the same area of research, but ultimately that will depend on opportunities available next year. I think it is time to start writing grants and get networking.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be more confident because you are more capable than you realise. Do the things that take you out of your comfort zone and take all the opportunities that come your way. It will work out in the end and you will grow more as a researcher and a person as a result.

If you could switch career path, what would you choose to do?

I really enjoy public outreach events and science communication in general, so I think I would do something along those lines. One of the highlights of the job for me is being able to engage with different audiences and get them excited about the work we do.


What is your most cringe-worthy career moment?

I am quite fortunate in that cringe-worthy moments are relatively few and far between, but one moment I won’t forget was during my first ever poster presentation at the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) conference. SFN includes a broad range of research topics and so naturally during my presentation, I asked if people had heard of macular degeneration. When asked, one chap responded, ‘a little bit’ and smiled. I didn’t think much of it until I thanked him for listening and shook his hand. I then saw his name tag and realised he was one of the key researchers in the field. It was the equivalent of asking Picasso if he knew much about painting. I think (I hope) he found it endearing.

How do you manage a work/life balance?

This has taken me a while to master. Being a PhD student is tough – it is so easy to overwork yourself through fear of failure, but ultimately that leads to burnout. I have learned to take my work email off my phone and I try to stick to working 9–5 where possible. In my spare time I like to play sports or go to the gym and always make plans with friends. I try to keep my social calendar full so I always have something to look forward to.

What do you do to unwind?

The research team descend on the Rook and Gaskill pub most Thursdays, which is always a great place to unwind. Otherwise, I enjoy exercise, baking, binge-watching true crime documentaries and dabbling in art. I am part of a wonderful netball team in York and playing sports is a great way to escape the world of work; I really value the time spent with my teammates on and off the court.

You have won the OT lottery. What are the first three things you would do with the £1m jackpot?

That is a tricky one. I would buy tickets for the Commonwealth Games for 2022 so I could watch the England netball team defend their gold medal. I saw them play at the Netball World Cup this year and it was an unforgettable experience. Otherwise, I would book a holiday and the boring but sensible option would be to buy a house. No more student house-shares.

Do you have your next holiday booked?

If I had won the OT lottery I would have a holiday booked. My brother has just moved to Switzerland, so I think that will be my next holiday destination. Free accommodation – you can’t get a better deal than that.


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